Russian hackers targeted Canada, U.S., U.K., COVID-19 vaccine research

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter
GETTY

A Russian cyber hacking group tried to attack Canadian organizations, including vaccine research entities, involved in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, the Communications Security Establishment said Thursday. 

The group APT 29, also known as Cozy Bear and the Dukes, also targeted organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom, the statement said. 

"These malicious cyber activities were very likely undertaken to steal information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines, and serve to hinder response efforts at a time when health-care experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic," the CSE said in a statement. 

The CSE statement indicated that COVID-19 pandemic “presents an elevated risk to the cybersecurity of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the pandemic.”

It added that the hackers used malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail” to target the organizations globally. 

Russians involved, not surprising: Stephanie Carvin

Stephanie Carvin, a security expert and associate professor at Carleton University, said in an interview that it wasn’t surprising to learn of today’s news considering that the CSE had warned Canada in May.

“The CSE effectively warned us that there was going to be numerous actors involved in hacking activities back in May,” she said. “The fact that COVID-19 is creating a range of national security threats... is making Canada vulnerable in ways that it hasn’t been in a long time.”

Carvin added that APT 29 was also previously linked to hacking the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.

She added it is not entirely clear what will happen next, but it is possible it could involve criminal charges.

“Often there’s coordination between numerous bodies within the government. In this particular case, you were almost certainly looking at Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence,” she said. “These different types of groups have to coordinate because this is an important diplomatic step in and of itself. It’s basically accusing a foreign state of engaging in illegal activity.”

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